Mr Simpleton

Mr. Shah joined our company around 1960 to take charge of the Finance department. He was very competent, hard working, honest and what have you. Most of all, he was God-fearing and very religious, and would not begin his day before offering his prayers, but in worldly affairs, he was a big zero. It just did not enter his head that there could be bad people around having evil or dirty ideas.

I must have inherited my father’s genes, because despite being an engineer I managed the Sales department of our company. This being so, I had to travel often to negotiate business deals. During one such visit to Calcutta, Mr. Shah also accompanied me. Those were our glory days and we stayed in a suite in grand hotels, perhaps the best that were.

One morning, we set out very early for Chittaranjan, a town about a five hour drive from Calcutta in a car given to us by my friend, Mr. Bhalotia, to negotiate a business deal with the locomotive factory there. We returned very late, shortly before midnight had a snack and retired to bed. Hardly had I closed my eyes when the telephone rang. Mr. Shah picked up the receiver when the party at the other end said, “Mr. Shah?”
“Yes?”
The conversation then went something like this “Can we meet now?”
It was Shah’s turn to be surprised. “Is it on business?” he queried.
“Yes, on business,” was the reply.
“Is it urgent? Can we not meet tomorrow?”
“Well, yes it is urgent. Uh, by the way, are you in company?” the party enquired.
“Yes, I am with somebody,” was what this simpleton said.
“Oh, excuse me then! But you can call me on so & so number if you wish!”

By now, I was fully awake and from what Shah was speaking, had gauged the situation. I was hopping mad and asked Mr. Shah whether he contemplated to violate me?! This idiot still would not understand! I had to clarify to him that the party who called was a pimp and he hung up when he said he was in my company!

But that was the overture, the real opera started the next day.

We were invited to dinner by my friend Mr. Bhalotia, where another common friend Mr. Singh – a fairly high-ranking police officer – also joined us. We had dinner at a posh restaurant on Park Street, a prominent place in Calcutta. Mr. Bhalotia was in the habit of driving his own car and seldom availed of the services of his chauffeur. He had parked his car in a lane opposite the restaurant where we had had dinner. On stepping out of the restaurant, we noticed a young woman very well dressed, or rather shall I say dolled up, with heavy makeup et al. We, that is the three of us minus this simpleton, could immediately make out with our trained (haha) eyes for what she was and since she was standing directly in our path decided to skirt round her, when Mr. Shah said, “hey, our car is just over there!” When we pointed out that the lady of the night was also there, he was pretty angry with all of us. “You people always have such dirty ideas in your mind! Don’t you see that she could be from a noble family and is perhaps waiting for someone?”

Oh sure, she certainly was waiting for someone! As our hero made straight for her direction, he was in for a rude shock. As soon as he neared her, she lifted her saree a bit, twirled full circle around him and made a lewd gesture Mr. Shah had to literally run away from her! The three of us could not contain our laughter at seeing his misery!

In 1967, just after the Arab Israeli war had ended, Mr. Shah and I undertook a business tour to Libya. We stayed at a supposedly plush hotel in Tripoli. After finishing business, we were to take an early morning flight out of Libya. Usually, Mr. Shah occupied the bathroom first because he always wanted some time for his prayers and rituals. To his shock, all the taps were dry and there was not a drop of water in the bathroom. After some angry exchanges with the Manager, a hotel boy arrived with two beer bottles full of precious water. Naturally Mr. Shah was the first to use the bathroom, while I tried to catch a few more winks. In a while, Mr. Shah appeared pleased as punch and uttered, “Aah, it feels so good, I had a bath.” I missed a few heartbeats thinking that my share of water was gone. Then he said, “Actually, I have preserved some water from my bottle for you.” I was totally perplexed as to how he could have had a bath. “Oh, it’s very simple. I just applied a few drops of water to my eyes, behind my ears and to my neck. I feel really very fresh and can now say my prayers in peace!” I just shook my head at the hypocrisy and the lunacy!

In the early 1970s, we set up a wire manufacturing facility in Bhopal – the capital city of the province of Madhya Pradesh – in collaboration with the local government. Mr. Shah shifted base to Bhopal, while I used to visit for about a week to ten days every month. The local language was Hindi, in which I was pretty fluent and Mr. Shah reasonably good, but at times he used absolutely the wrong words, leading to some howlers.

Once, as we were going someplace with Mr. Shah driving and I sitting besides him, we noticed that the rear door of the car just ahead of us being driven by a young woman, was not properly shut. Just to bring it to her notice, Mr. Shah pulled over next to her car and told the lady in Hindi: “Behenji, aapka phaatak khula hai,” which literally translated, would mean “Sister, your gate is open!” God, what had he said! Somehow, I quickly used my wits and explained to her exactly what the situation was. She just smiled and nodded. I heaved a sigh of relief. Had she taken an offence, the floodgates of trouble would have opened!

Well, all that was many years ago. In good time, Mr. Shah retired from active service and devoted his full time in service of God and mankind. While he was with us, he worked diligently for the company and was one of the major pillars of our company. The simpleton left this world a couple of years ago to render personal service to the Lord.

A silly but a noble soul.

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